Q: Our District is temporarily closed pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order, but we are still providing a flexible education program to our students. Some staff are on campus working directly on COVID-19 response while others are working remotely. Is it necessary to suspend the requirements of the Public Information Act and send notice to the Attorney General?
A: No. Based on COVID-19 guidance from the Attorney General, a section 552.233 suspension is not necessary if the governmental body is not open for business or if the applicable suspension period does not otherwise encompass a business day.
The Attorney General’s COVID-19 guidance clarifies that the following are not considered business days: (1) holidays observed by the governmental body, (2) weekends, (3) skeleton crew days, and (4) days on which the governmental body’s administrative offices are closed. The guidance further provides that if the District has closed its physical offices for the purpose of a public health or epidemic response or if the governmental body is unable to access its records on a calendar day, then that day is not considered a business day, even if staff continue to work remotely or staff is present but involved directly in the public health or epidemic response. Given that the Governor has ordered that schools be temporarily closed, the closure days should not be considered business days based on the guidance from the Attorney General. As a belt and suspenders, you may consider putting a notice on your website and/or an automated email reply to those submitting a request giving notice of the closure relating to the Public Information Act. (e.g. “By Order of the Governor of the State of Texas, our campuses are closed to the public until further notice. No day during such closure will be considered a “business day” for purposes of the Texas Public Information Act.”)
While Texas Government Code Section 552.233 provides that a governmental body impacted by catastrophe may suspend the requirements of the Public Information Act, the initial suspension period may only be for seven calendar days, with an option for the Board to extend the suspension an additional seven days. As such, the suspension period under Section 552.233 can only be for a total period of fourteen calendar days. The Attorney General acted in his Guidance as described above to provide greater relief from the burdens of the TPIA in the event that the Governor’s Executive Order temporarily closing schools lasts longer than 14 days.
For specific questions concerning a District’s responsibilities and requirements under the Public Information Act, contact your school attorney.